Odyssey of the Mind Curriculum Activity: Balance the Books
Primary Goal: Students will explore the practice of balance in industry and come to understand the difference between revenue and profit.
Secondary Goals:
Understand business practices Learn fiscal responsibility
Learn accounting functions Explore uses of revenue
Prep Time
1 hour

-- Individuals
-- Small groups
-- Entire class

Research Sources
Financial Records

Art supplies
Formal accounting was invented in 1494 by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar. He described the practice in his paper "Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita" ("Everything About Arithmetic, Geometry and Proportion"). His paper described double-entry bookkeeping: For every credit entered into a ledger there must be a debit. The German philosopher Goethe called this concept, which was created by Florentine merchants, "one of the most beautiful discoveries of the human spirit." It's been said that even Columbus took along an accountant on his trip to America to keep track of the cost of gold and spices that he would accumulate.

Have each student research the company that produces his or her favorite product, using the Internet or library resources such as Standard & Poor's. Explain that it must be a public company, not privately owned. Have them find a balance sheet and corporate statements from the public domain. Discuss what the documents describe.

Explain the terms revenue and profit and the differences between them. Discuss common uses of revenue, e.g., research and development, infrastructure, dividends, etc. Explain the concept of financial balance: When something is invested in one place, it is (a) coming from somewhere else, and (b) not going to other places.

Present the following examples to the class:
 1.  An altruistic company sells at the cost of production plus current direct expenses only. What happens when the company incurs a non-fixed cost such as replacing a roof, unexpected equipment breakdown, etc. Brainstorm where that money could come from and how it would help or hinder gross revenue.
 2.  An agency receives a fixed percent of revenue but does not incur expenses in direct proportion to its growth in revenue (use taxes as an example). Ask the class, Is it proper to spend all the revenue? If a lesser amount will cover the required expenses, should the balance be returned to the source or invested elsewhere? Predict what happens when revenue goes down if the organization has always spent everything it earned. Should the percentage taken in be increased? Why? If so, where will the increased revenue come from? What areas will suffer as a result?

 1.  In groups of four, have students build a balancing device and use it to demonstrate the concept of debit and credit. Have them decorate the device to help illustrate their findings and opinions.
 2.  Have students keep a weekly balance sheet on their own income and outgoing expenses. At the end of each week, discuss how they feel they handled their finances.